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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com

Marlies could end their season with two players etched in the record books and some new goaltenders

The Marlies are having a season to remember, but also one where they’ve battled to be in a playoff spot.

Toronto pretty much has a playoff spot booked, however, now it’s about seeding. The Marlies are battling it out with four other teams (Belleville, Rochester, Laval, and Syracuse) to finish the season in second or third place.

At this moment, Toronto is the fourth seed, meaning that they would play Rochester in the first round in a best-of-three series. I doubt any team wants to be in that series while the rest of the teams watch on.

On one hand, the Marlies are having an incredible season as players like Alex Steeves and Bobby McMann are having incredible years. On the other hand, they’re going to try and push for one of the top spots without any goaltenders that the Maple Leafs or Marlies have under contract.

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It began with Keith Petruzzelli, who was experiencing concussion-like symptoms on Tuesday night before their game in Abbotsford. Toronto then went out and signed Talor Joseph to an ATO. Once the Marlies knew Petruzzelli couldn’t go, Michael Hutchinson was set to start the game. That was until Petr Mrazek got injured with the Maple Leafs.

Joseph was supposed to backup, but with Hutchinson not going in because of Mrazek’s injury, Joseph was told he’d be starting in his first-ever AHL game. Toronto ended up getting a 5-3 win over the Canucks, with Joseph making 34 saves on 37 shots.

“I thought they were gonna introduce me and say good luck, just be ready, and they said I was starting. It was pretty exciting news,” said Joseph after the game to Todd Crocker. “I was just really excited and wanted to just take the opportunity and run with it.”

Joseph ended up starting the next night in Abbotsford too. Toronto signed Billy Christopoulos to a PTO and he was supposed to start, but because of issues at the airport, he didn’t make it there until halfway through the first period.

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Christopoulos would enter the Marlies net in the second period and only allowed one goal on 21 shots to help Toronto secure their second-straight win in Abbotsford.

They would go onto play two more games on the road in Manitoba, unfortunately losing both. But a good story can be told after those two games in BC.

Toronto now looks ahead to a four-game homestand without any goalies under NHL or AHL contracts. Christopoulos is one netminder and Andrew D’Agostini is the other. However, there could be another two goalies as Carter Hutton is listed on the Marlies roster and they recently signed Rylan Parenteau to PTO.

Hutton would be an interesting case because there was reports that he would be staying in Arizona for the rest of the season.

The bigger picture, though, is the Maple Leafs and Marlies goaltending at the moment. There are a lot of injuries throughout the entire organization.

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It’s not just goaltending that the Marlies have acquired over the last week. College free agents are now eligible to sign with teams and Toronto has signed a few players. The Marlies have signed Graham Slaggert (Notre Dame), Tommy Miller (Northeastern University), and Marshall Rifai (Harvard) all to contracts, but will be on PTO’s for the rest of this season.

Toronto has also signed Michael Joyaux (Western Michigan) and Nolan Walker (St. Cloud State), but they won’t arrive until next season.

Like I said earlier, Toronto is in an important race to determine playoff seeding, so would the Marlies risk that to play a rookie?

“There’s a balance. We have guys that have been here all year and are at a different point in the season for themselves of ramping up to earn a playoff spot and hopefully play in playoffs. And then we have guys who are coming in who are trying to earn a spot,” said Marlies head coach Greg Moore on Tuesday. “We’re trying to get assessments on them and where they’re at. It’s also hard, too, because with how many games that were made up from all the postpones earlier in the year, our schedule’s crammed so there’s not a lot of team practice. So, when guys are in the lineup, we’ll take advantage of our ice in the morning and work with our development staff during those sessions.”

One final note on Steeves and McMann. The two are close to breaking Josh Leivo’s rookie goal record of 23. Steeves currently has 20 and McMann has 19. It’s looking like one of them, or both, will break the record this season.

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“I can’t speak on if it’s even in their heads,” said Moore after practice on Tuesday. “I think they’re both just really committed to doing what they can to help the team win every night. And in return, getting rewarded for it. They both have different ways and different skillsets to create for themselves. We’ve really leaned on them a lot for our team’s success this year, so that’s really awesome when you have two rookies that have come in and can step up for your team in a big way.”

The Marlies have 11 games remaining on the season and their magic number to make the playoffs is 23 points. It doesn’t look like they’ll make it there, but between the rookie scoring race, goaltending, and new players hitting the ice, it’ll make for a fun end of the regular season for Toronto.

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